The Public Policy Legal Institute began in April 2017, and, for a small, all-volunteer organization, had a pretty busy first year:
Litigation: PPLI filed two amici curiae briefs in the Supreme Court of the United States, both in No. 16-1436, Trump v. IRAP. The first requested the Court to grant certiorari in the case in order to review the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and that opinion’s “welcome restraint” legal theory, which could threaten the freedom of political candidates to speak; the Court did grant certiorari in that case. The Bureau of National Affairs, a legal journal, reported on and analyzed the PPLI cert petition. The second requested the Court to vacate the Fourth Circuit’s decision and to speak strongly against the “welcome restraint” legal theory; the Court vacated the Fourth Circuit’s decision with an unusual reference to U.S. v. Munsingwear, which emphasized that the Fourth Circuit’s decision should not be cited in future litigation by lower courts. Both briefs were filed in conjunction with the Institute for Free Speech, another charity working to protect advocacy and free expression.
Government Regulation: PPLI filed comments with the Internal Revenue Service concerning the proposed Form 1024-A. The comments noted that the proposed form did not respond to Congressional concerns clearly enunciated in the legislative history of Internal Revenue Code § 506, especially those related to the amount of work engaged in by the Service during processing of applications for determination letters by section 501(c)(4) organizations. The comments propose that the Service adjust its efforts to implement section 506 by shifting resources to educational activities, and utilize the Service’s recent experience with “self-declaring” organizations and applications and with analytics to deploy available resources.
Public Education: From April to December, PPLI published 39 posts on its blog Vox PPLI. Topics included:
- analyses of the new tax law
- important litigation
- the IRS’s targeting of organizations based on names and perceived ideology
- free speech and advocacy
- new IRS forms and regulatory efforts.
One post which received significant attention in the legal and trade media was the October 6, 2017, post on a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s September 28 report noting that liberal organizations received scrutiny by the IRS during the “scandal” period. News media portrayed the report as justifying the IRS’s targeting actions. The PPLI post noted that the treatment of liberal organizations was not news, since the Washington Post, congressional committees and many others had already reported on this treatment shortly after the scandal became public. The post also explained the difference between the treatment of liberal organizations (under an older established process, known as Touch-and-Go or “TAG,” with procedural and policy safeguards) and the later, rogue treatment of mostly conservative organizations (under what was known as “Be On the Look Out” or “BOLO”) without those safeguards. Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Justin Levitt called the post “an interesting primer” on the differences between treatment afforded the two types of groups.